The 2024 Ruby Hutchison Memorial Lecture – 50 Years of Consumer Advocacy

This year’s Ruby Hutchison Memorial lecture shone a light on just how much the consumer protection movement together with regulators has achieved in the last 50 years, and the complex consumer issues we’re still seeking answers to today.

Bringing in a musical theme and recognising the rockstar influence of the speakers, the ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe expertly guided panel members and former ACCC Deputies Allan Asher, Delia Rickard, Louise Sylvan and Peter Kell, as they reflected on the triumphs and consequences of the Competition and Consumer Act (formerly the Trade Practices Act) on its 50th birthday.

The Panel also explored areas of the Australian Consumer Law requiring urgent reform, alongside the complexities and possible solutions to the ‘wicked problems’ consumers experience in our evolving digital world.

Panel members spoke about how the Act strengthened enforcement and introduced meaningful penalties (for some aspects of the law) and consumer guarantees. Even after 50 years of societal change and evolvement, the Act remains one of the most important pieces of legislation to be passed in Australia, and is just as relevant and evolving today.

While the Consumer Law has made a tremendous difference to consumer protections, the panel highlighted where the law could go further, and the continued disproportionate impact on people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage. Limitations of state tribunals, the lack of penalties for reforms such as the consumer guarantees, the need for better and improved dispute resolution schemes including meaningful access to redress, a general safety provision and a national injuries database, were just some of these pertinent reflections and calls to action.

Panel members also discussed the newly introduced super complaints mechanism (soon to be known in Australia as designated complaints), the need for a digital ombudsman in our evolving digital world, and called for meaningful and sustainable funding for Australian consumer organisations so they can continue to thrive and bring consumer voices to the policy table.

The panel highlighted the consumer movement’s dedicated commitment in advocating for an unfair trading prohibition, in response to the limitations of the unconscionable conduct provisions to protect consumers in the marketplace.

The panel also explored several ‘wicked problems’, many of which have been initially raised by Australia’s consumer movement. Climate change, strong obligations for digital platforms, scams, impact of AI, online safety, dark patterns, the rental market, post-market services and sales were just some of the complex issues explored by the panel and discussed with fervour.

We all left the night with a renewed energy to keep fighting for consumers through the legacy of Ruby Hutchison, who was a woman who believed in working for purpose.

The above article was written by Sarah Panckridge and posted on the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) website on 15/03/2024. The original article can be found here (